NBA Goes Live on Broadband

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Basketball fans will soon be able to watch Kobe Bryant dunk and shoot three-pointers live on their laptop computers.

The National Basketball Association will offer every league game on the Internet via NBA.com (www.nba.com) to subscribers of its NBA League Pass out-of-market pay-per-view package.

Meanwhile, Comcast will tip off an array of league-centric video-on-demand programming.

The NBA’s free Web offering is a fast break from other pro-sports leagues like Major League Baseball, which charges separate fees for its online and cable out-of-market game packages.

The live games are part of an extensive NBA broadband-video offering that will give fans hundreds of hours of game highlights, user-generated content and fantasy-sports information, as well as a forum to express their opinions about their favorite teams.

The NBA League Pass broadband area on NBA.com will for the first time offer every live game aired as part of the $179 package distributed through cable and satellite companies.

The league tested the online-streaming service late in the 2005-06 season. NBA Entertainment director of interactive services Steve Grimes would not reveal how many live streams the league generated. The NBA also declined to enumerate how many subscribers it has for its out-of-market package.

The NBA is the third professional sports league to offer live out-of-market games on broadband.

Through MLB.com (mlb.mlb.com), MLB offers live streaming of regular-season games for $79.95. The league also offers MLB Extra Innings, a cable- and satellite-based out-of-market game package for $169.95. MLB officials did not return calls seeking subscription counts for the packages.

And Major League Soccer offers a $9.95 Web-based live-game subscription package to complement its $69 MLS Direct Kick cable and satellite out-of-market game service.

To keep from slam-dunking its cable and satellite partners, Grimes said the league will offer its NBA League Pass Broadband service free-of-charge as an added value to existing NBA League Pass subscribers.

Looking to build on the 65 million streams of game highlights, player profiles and other content NBA.com garnered last season, Grimes added that the league will add even more broadband video offerings.

Along with in-game and post-game highlights of every NBA game, NBA TV Broadband will feature highlights of top plays, press conferences, interviews and behind-the-scenes coverage this season. In addition, the league will create team-specific broadband-video players that will run on NBA.com, as well as the respective team sites.

In an effort to reach casual fans, Grimes said the network will add more offbeat, lighthearted content similar to the entertainment clips seen on user-generated sites like YouTube (www.youtube.com) and MySpace.com (www.myspace.com).

For hard-core hoops fans, Grimes said, the league will offer a voice section that will give them a chance to write personal recaps, commentaries and insights for specific games.

Users can post comments from the beginning of each game until the end of the next day. Comments will be saved along with the actual game’s official score and recap on the site, and on the individual’s personal profile page.

On the VOD side of the scoreboard, the NBA will provide Comcast with three- to five-minute highlight clips from league games daily; top plays from the past evening’s action; and NBA library content, according to Steve Merritt, senior director of marketing for NBATV.

The league will also provide Comcast with several exclusive VOD packages, including an NBA season and fantasy preview, a draft preview and All-Star Game content.

The league is also in talks with Google about extending last year’s agreement to offer complete replays of its games for $9.95 per download.

And the NBA expects to announce shortly its plans to offer league content to mobile phones and other portable media players like Apple Computer’s video iPods, Merritt said.

For more on the NBA, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page 11 of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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